Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Day 11: Joy to the World

For some people during Christmas, the colors of the season aren't red and green.  It's blue.

Holiday sadness and stress is real.  For some the shortening days and cloudy weather can be the cause.  For others memories and bad relationships can be the cause of sadness.  Sometimes the stress of holiday traffic, buying presents, constant appeals for money from every needy cause, and the long list of things to do can wear them down until the sparkle of Christmas becomes dull and rusty.

The good news of this is we have a choice.  Especially for those of us that are chronically "blue" at Christmastime, we aren't slaves to the way we feel.  We can and do have control over how we see the world.

Unfortunately, the choice to see the world with joy isn't always as easy as "think positive thoughts".  The Norman Vincent Peale approach, "The Power of Positive Thinking", sounds a lot easier than it actually is.  And for those of us that struggle with depression and anxiety disorders, sometimes unraveling the ties that keep us in a funk is so hard that it's just easier to say, "Heck with it.  It's Christmastime and I'm going to be grumpy."

So here are some tips for bringing some joy into your life at this holiday time that should be ideally be all about joy.

1.  Make your holiday more spiritual.  The most famous Christmas passage from the Bible, Luke 2:9-11, says, "An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord."  We are told that the coming of the Lord will bring us great joy.  That is a promise.  We may like the Christmas decorations and the holiday parties and they may make us happy, but focusing on the meaning of the season, what the coming of Jesus Christ means to the world and the great gift the Lord is giving the us will instead fill us with joy.

2.  Get away and have some quiet time.  Find regular and disciplined time to get away and think.  Pray during this time.  Read your bible.  Write in a journal.  We can be so consumed in the rush, rush, rush of the season that we never have time to let the season soak into us.  This will also help you accomplish #1 above because ultimately, the spirituality of the season isn't so much about Christmas pageants  Christmas choral fests, live nativity scenes or even the Christmas church service.  Those things can be aids to highlighting the spirituality of Christmas, but the real spiritual component is your individual relationship to Christ.  You personally and individually need to make the connection and you can't do that without getting away and having intentional quiet time to focus on those things.

3.  Focus on the positives and let the negatives go.  How many times have we let the joy of a holiday get together slip through our fingers because one person was completely obnoxious?  How many good holiday memories do we forget because we focus so hard on one or two negative experiences?  How many things do we do right throughout the Christmas season that we don't let ourselves feel good about because there was one thing that didn't go well or we didn't have time for?  If these things are the case, you are not being a good steward of the joy in your life.  It is no different than mismanaging money or time or anything else.  Train your mind to go to a positive thought every time you start thinking negatively.  This isn't an immediate process and can in fact take years of hard work, but it is worth the effort.

4.  Find what brings you joy at Christmas and make those things the top holiday priorities.  Does driving around looking at Christmas lights bring you joy, but sending out Christmas cards suck the life out of you?  Then make driving around looking at Christmas lights your priority and if the Christmas cards don't get sent out, it's not a big deal.  Do you love listening to Christmas music and going to Christmas concerts, but hate making cookies?  Then don't make cookies and get your butt to some concerts.  Does the huge family dinner where 35 people all cram into a tiny three bedroom house and trip over each other make you dread the entire season?  Then spend the rest of the year visiting everyone individually the rest of the year and have your own small get together for Christmas.  Traditions are good and healthy, but only as long as they are good and healthy.  There is no reason why the way you celebrate Christmas has to look like anyone else's celebration.  Do it your way and put boundaries in place for everything that drains you.

5.  Spend time helping others.  There is nothing like seeing a child in the hospital at Christmastime light up when you read them "The Night Before Christmas".  There is nothing like seeing someone who truly is going hungry get a good holiday meal.  There is so much joy in being the real Santa Claus for a family that otherwise would have very little under the tree.

One of the greatest Christmas joys I've ever experienced was when a ladies choir I was in went and sung Christmas carols for the residents in a nursing home.  The idea was to sing our songs and then go around and talk to the residents for a few minutes before we left.  After singing, I sat down with a woman who was all by herself and started talking with her.  After a few exchanges of introduction, she said, "Tell me about how you'll be celebrating Christmas."  I started off telling her about whose house we were going to when.  Then she kept asking more questions like, "What presents did you buy?" and "What are you going to eat for Christmas dinner?"  I soon realized that all she wanted was to hear about all the trappings of my holiday season, things she couldn't do anymore and apparently missed.  After all the other ladies from the choir left, I still sat with this woman and told her about every detail of our Christmas, my favorite ornaments I put on the tree, how I decorated the house, how I pick the wrapping paper I use, etc.  It seemed kind of silly to me, but when I left, she grabbed my arm and said, "You don't know what kind of gift you gave me.  You let me live Christmas through you."

6.  Get some counseling if you need to.  I saved this one for last because it is usually the last thing people want to go do, but if you find a good Christian counselor, this can be the most helpful thing of all.  Many times our feelings and thoughts, especially at Christmas, are so wrapped up in webs of our and other people's dysfunctionality that we can really benefit from seeing someone who specializes in unwrapping those webs.  Even if it is too late to get in to see a counselor, consider seeing one after the holidays and talk through all the emotions you feel during the Christmas season.  As my husband once said, "Everyone needs to go see a counselor.  And if you don't think you need to, you probably need to go twice as bad."  It is well worth the money you put into it.

So go forth and be joyful!  We are promised that by the angels at Jesus' birth.  So go find your joy!

Activity:  Make a list of all the positive things and things you enjoy about Christmas.  Post this somewhere accessible, like on the refrigerator or maybe on your desk.  Then any time you start to lose joy or begin to think negative thoughts, read through the list and replace the negative thoughts with thoughts that bring you joy.

Prayer:  Spend some time praying about joy.  If you don't think you've ever experienced Christ-like joy, pray that God allows you to experience it.  Also ask God to provide you with opportunities to spread joy to other people and to give you the strength to follow through on them.

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